A hospice worker provides care services to patients with terminal illnesses who elect for compassionate care only. This means that the patient is no longer actively pursuing treatment for disease, but wishes to be kept as comfortable as possible. Patients may receive care at home, in designated hospice facilities, or on hospital wards, depending on their level of need and their personal preferences. Hospice workers can include nurses, doctors, mental health professionals, and home health aides with special training in this field.
Working with dying patients can present significant challenges to care providers. Health care historically has been geared at helping patients recover, sometimes with very aggressive treatments. The development of compassionate care, where patients are kept comfortable while dying, but not treated with curative goals in mind, can require some adjustments. A hospice worker helps with pain management, symptom control, and psychological issues that may develop as people come to terms with death.
Some educational institutions offer specific training in hospice and palliative care for their students or qualified health care providers who want certification to become hospice workers. This training discusses end of life care options and different levels of care available. Patients in hospice are not neglected, but may request minimal medical intervention as part of their care plans. For example, a doctor might not intubate a patient, or might withdraw chemotherapy if a cancer patient finds the medication intolerable.
The treatments a hospice worker can provide depend on the level of training. Doctors can prescribe medications and perform medical procedures, for example. Nurses are able to administer drugs, perform some procedures, take vital signs, and monitor patients. People like home health aides can offer assistance with tasks like cleaning and bathing, but cannot engage in activities like inserting intravenous lines. There is also a large call for mental health professionals and members of the clergy in hospice settings to advise patients and their families.
The environment for a hospice worker can vary considerably from job to job. Some focus on at home care and may travel to visit several patients on a route. They can help patients with bathing and dressing, administer medications, advise family members, and offer support. Seriously ill patients might need an attendant, especially in their final days, in which case a hospice worker might focus on caring for that patient only. Other workers prefer hospital or other residential environments, and help patients navigate hospice care in these settings.